The well-known artist 2 Chainz has produced a song that’s become an anthem for many: “I’m Different.”
It’s something I often hear my sons say: “I don’t fit in, because I am different.” It’s not always a positive thing, yet it is the lens through which we see the world and ourselves. But what if we celebrated our differences instead of spending so much energy comparing our shortcomings? How would that impact our self- and social esteem?
During the last several months, we have experienced a global crisis that has triggered a strong survival response in our brains. It’s heightened our awareness of things, people — and our differences.
And we all know that strong emotions can impair decision-making. When we are operating in a state of fear, we don’t always make the best choices. Imagine going through life making a series of poor decisions. Where could that lead us as individuals? As a community? As a state? As a nation? Those decisions could negatively affect our personal relationships, professions and economies.
It doesn’t have to happen.
As an educator, my learners often watch movies and extract lessons. We recently watched Trolls 2. In the movie, there were many different genres of musical trolls. However, there was one rock troll who wanted to take over the world. She wanted a Rock Nation. The rock troll saw musical “differences” as a threat to the greater good. She believed that the world would be better if every troll were the same. The Rock Troll seized each musical land and made it her own. As a result of her conquest, there was no more pop, country, hip-hop, Latin, dubstep or any other kind of music.
Fortunately, there was a moment when the rock queen was confronted by her own people who let her know that if everyone was the same, no one was unique. As a result, the trolls celebrated their differences — they sing together in their different genres, and the music they create is even more beautiful than had they gone it alone.
I grew up in a community that was predominantly African- and Hispanic-American. I fit in.
My life took a turn when I attended a university which was predominantly white. I didn’t fit in, didn’t even know how to become part of the fabric of campus at first. What I learned was that while I was weaker than my fellow students in some areas, in others I was stronger than they were. And as we leveraged our differences toward teamwork — in studies and fun — it created positive personal relationships, improved our campus and benefited the greater community. While our differences can often create isolation and loneliness, especially as first-time college students, a few of us decided we wanted to create bridges to fully experience new cultures and new communities.
Ethnic backgrounds are just one difference — there are so many more: religious, gender and sexual orientation, educational, social — and on and on. The experience I had in college created a shift — I would never see the world the same again. I no longer see it as “us-versus-them.”
Fear of the unknown often makes us retreat, isolate and push away. But what would it look like if we practiced having the curiosity of a 5-year-old? How much could we learn and grow if we weren’t afraid to ask questions?
One of my favorite things about educating youths is when one of my kindergarten learners asks questions purely out of curiosity. It takes a humble approach for him to recognize there are things he doesn’t know and learning about me could help him learn about himself.
Children often recognize that they might be different from each other, but they focus on what unites them; they focus on what they have in common; they focus on their shared pursuits. Imagine attending a networking event filled only with extroverts. Everyone would be talking. Now imagine a networking event filled with only introverts. No one would initiate a conversation. So the balance of having different types of people at an event creates opportunities.
The Trolls movie, my college years and the youths I interact with share a commonality: They represent embracing differences to better relationships, expanding our realities and improving our responses to each other. So, in a world where everyone wants to point out differences, be the courageous pioneer who dares to celebrate that we are uniquely created to work together, live together and create together.
David Prosper is an educator in Southeast Colorado Springs, working to build the Shepherd Revolution Leadership Academy for middle school students to learn leadership lessons.